With the Warriors running roughshod over all competition, there’s been a lot of speculation lately about who would win in a seven game series between the 2017 Golden State Warriors and the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Here are five reasons why the Warriors would win.
Note: Both teams would have 15 days to prepare for the series and the games played in Chicago would have refereeing from 1996 and the games played in Oakland would have refereeing from 2017. The Bulls would have home court advantage since they won 72 games to the Warriors’ 67.
5. Steve Kerr
In this scenario, we would have to clone Steve Kerr, but we’re already getting into time travel, so no big deal, right? The Steve Kerr who coaches the Warriors would have intimate knowledge of the Bulls’ plays, philosophy, strengths, and weaknesses. He would also have a pretty good idea of what adjustments Phil Jackson would make to certain moves, and the advantage of modern analytics and tape study, which is light years ahead of where it was in 1996.
This knowledge only goes so far – the entire league knew all the Celtics’ plays in the ’60s, and they still won eight straight titles – but in a tight series (and I do believe this matchup would be tighter than Peyton Manning’s sphincter before a big playoff game), every advantage helps.
4. Overall Roster Talent
The ’96 Bulls were awe-inspiring, but let’s not kid ourselves: the Warriors are more talented at #1-12. They probably have the most talented starting lineup in NBA history and all of them appear to be totally unselfish, not caring who scores, and continually moving the ball until they get a good shot. It’s a hard combination to beat, as evidenced by the rest of the NBA this season.
Then throw in Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston: two long, versatile players who can come in off the bench and pick up right where the starters left off. The Bulls would have the best player in the matchup, but look how far that’s gotten the Cavs. Plus, if Jackson was smart, he would start Toni Kukoc at center to match Golden State’s small ball style, so Chicago’s bench may be lacking in offensive punch.
3. Underrated Defense
Most of the accolades thrown the Warriors’ way is for their offense, and understandably so. However, they’ve always been a good (borderline great) defensive team, and their strengths on that side of the ball in some ways mirror those of the ’96 Bulls. The Dubs’ biggest defensive weapon is their ability to guard the perimeter and switch interchangeably on pick and rolls between Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Iggy, Livingston, and on a good day, Steph Curry. This doesn’t get talked about enough, but has been a key to their dominance over the past three seasons.
So Curry goes on Ron Harper, Klay/Iggy take Jordan, Durant takes Pippen, and most importantly, Draymond takes Rodman and helps a LOT off the ball thanks to Rodman’s well-known hatred of putting the ball through the hoop. They wouldn’t stop the Bulls, but outside of a dominant shot-blocker, they have everything you would want to slow them down. That, plus Draymond may be the most versatile front-court defender ever.
2. Trading 3’s for 2’s
There’s a reason the teams that shoot the most threes win the most games. It’s a better, more efficient way to play. Even with the Bulls’ vaunted perimeter defense, the Warriors would still hit lots of threes at a pretty decent percentage, and no matter how much the Bulls prepared, they wouldn’t be ready for the extreme pace-and-space style the Dubs prefer. Time and time again we’ve seen Curry, Klay, and KD get their shots off against tough, in-your-face defense.
That means that even if the Bulls were efficient offensively, they would still fall behind because they would too often be trading twos for threes. The ’17 Warriors lead the ’96 Bulls in effective field goal percentage .565 to .517 and in true shooting percentage .597 to .555. These aren’t huge margins, but they are meaningful. The Bulls would certainly have advantages elsewhere, but this one goes to the Warriors.
1. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant would be the X-factor in this series. Scottie Pippen is probably as qualified as anyone on earth to guard him (with the possible exception of Kawhi Leonard), but many of the things Durant does are just unguardable. A legit 7-footer with a long wingspan, Durant’s shots are mostly unblockable, and he seems to relish (and practice) making tough shots from awkward angles. He’s also one of the five greatest scorers this league has ever seen, super efficient, underrated on defense, and the player on the court who would come closest to Jordan in pure talent.
Last year’s 73-win Golden State team was great, but the Bulls would have matched up against them really well with MJ on Curry, Pippen on Klay, Harper on Harrison Barnes, and Rodman on Draymond. With Durant in the mix, the math doesn’t work quite as well. There has never been anyone like him in the history of the NBA and he would be a sliiiightly tougher matchup than Shawn Kemp or Karl Malone in the ’90s.